When I was 16, my family moved from Montreal to Markham, Ont. At that time, it was as monocultural as any place in Canada. There were only a couple of non-white kids in the whole school. I remember feeling utterly perplexed at a classmate’s anger that some men were speaking Italian on the bus. I may not have spoken much French in my Anglo Montreal suburb, but I was at least used to hearing a different language.
I’m showing my age with this anecdote, because according to the Globe & Mail (Oct. 26, 2013), Markham is now the most diverse city in Canada, with over 70 percent of its residents so-called “visible minorities” – a term that is rapidly losing its meaning. And other cities across Canada are showing similar, if not quite such dramatic, trends.
What does this mean for schools and educators? Like so many changes, the increasing diversity in our school brings both opportunity and challenges. The richness of knowledge and experience, the broadening of perspective a diverse school offers – these are gifts we can all benefit from. But schools must also put thought and effort into building welcoming, inclusive communities, and developing effective teaching strategies to meet the needs of newcomer students.
Those needs can be complex, and our response may need to reach beyond the individual classroom. One of the most exciting articles for me in this issue is Alysha Sloane’s description of the Peaceful Village initiative in Winnipeg (p. 15). This school-based program, which engages newcomer students and their families in a wonderful community-building experience, shows what can happen when we embrace the challenge and beauty of diversity. Bringing it back to the classroom level, Luigi Iannacci offers many practical strategies for supporting the literacy development of young culturally and linguistically diverse learners (p. 18).
I want to mention one more article, by a young man who felt trapped between cultures and conflicting expectations and nearly gave up. Instead, he turned his life around, and now shares his experience and insight through spoken word and hip hop performance. As educators, we all feel overwhelmed sometimes by the enormity of the task before us, but Wali Shah (p. 46) reminds us of the difference just one teacher can make to a student’s life. He was that student – and now he hopes to become, in turn, that teacher.
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Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, January 2014